Sunday, December 30, 2012

Blue Cheese Shortbread Bites + New Years Eve 2012

Three, two, one, party!  With 2013 around the corner, do you have your New Year’s Eve celebration plans set?  Are you painting the town red?  Hosting a soirée at your house? Attending a friend’s bash? Relaxing in front of television with a glass of champagne and ringing in the New Year with Ryan Seacrest? No matter what plans you have, as long as you are authentic in your celebratory plans and do what makes you happy, then that is the best way to ring in the New Year.

Last year at this time I was preparing for an intimate New Years Eve soiree that I was hosting at our house.  Entertaining for me is an opportunity to let my creative juices flow, gather good friends together and share in great conversation and many laughs.  One of my long time friends Denise came to the Bay Area for the holidays, so it was a perfect reason to host a wine and appetizer party at our house for her and about a dozen plus other friends.  A good time was had by all with good friends, great conversations, tasty food, special wines and indelible memories.

This year Hubby and I decided to celebrate with just the two of us by enjoying a wonderful bottle of bubbly and sharing tasty appetizers.  Perhaps to ring in 2014, we will host a bash at our house.  Until then, I am looking forward to having a party for two and ringing in the New Year with my hubby.  We will be feasting on an array of appetizers along with enjoying a few glasses of French bubbly.  I have featured a few of the tasty appetizers we will be enjoying.

Blue Cheese Shortbread Bites, Truffled Popcorn and Caprese Bites

Speaking of bubbly, thought I would share with all of you a Quick Guide to Champagne and Sparkling Wine:

Authentic champagne, a sparkling wine must come from the Champagne region of France and must be made using the “methode champenoise”, in which secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle.  Other sparkling wines are made using “methode traditionelle”, “bottle fermented” or methode champenoise” on the label.

  • American Sparkling Wines such as Roederer Estates (by Champagne Louis Roederer), Domaine Chandon (by Moet & Chandon) and Domaine Carneros (by Tattinger) are a few French producers in California.
  • Cremant are sparkling wines made outside of the Champagne region in France and still utilize the methode champenoise to produce these sparkling wines.  Brut Rose is a perfect example of Cremant with it’s lovely coral color, berry aromas and a dry finish.
  • Cava is from Spain and is the sparkling wine that is primarily produced in the Penedes region in Catalonia.
  • Prosecco, one of my favorites is made from the Moscato Bianco grape in the Peidmont region in Italy.
  • Blanc de Blancs is made only with chardonnay grapes and goes well with light foods
  • Blanc de Noirs is made solely from pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes and often have a deeper color which pair well with meats and cheeses.
  • Rose can be all pinot noir, pinot noir & pinot meunier or a blend of all three grapes.  The color comes from leaving the skin on during the fermentation process for a period of time and is called “saignee” which means bleeding.  Rose pairs well with food.
Dry versus Sweet

Review the label to determine the level of sweetness:
  • Extra Brut – totally dry
  • Brut – dry
  • Extra Dry – Medium dry
  • Sec – slightly sweet
  • Demi – Sec: Fairly sweet
  • Doux – Sweet

According to the French, the correct way to chill a bottle is to use a champagne bucket filled with a combination of water and ice should reach the perfect temperature in 15 to 20 minutes.

Food Pairing

Champagne is a wonderful beverage to pair with many foods.  Here is a quick list of both traditional and non-traditional pairings to try:
  • Hard cheeses – Cheddar, Gouda and Parmesan
  • Breaded and fried mushrooms with a Srirachi dipping sauce
  • Gruyere Gougeres
  • Mac and Cheese
  • Truffled Popcorn
  • Deviled Eggs
  • Handmade Potato Chips with Sea Salt
  • Crab Cakes
  • Butternut Squash Risotto
  • Mini Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwiches
  • Chinese Egg Rolls
  • Classic Cheese Fondue
  • Individual Baked Cheese Soufflés
  • Figs wrapped with Prosciutto
  • Duck Fat Fried French Fries with Rosemary
Opening Champagne

A toast to you!! I want to raise my virtual glass of champagne and toast each of you and wish you all the best in 2013.  May it be a year filled with much happiness, good health and your own personal prosperity.  May you have many new learning experiences, expand your imagination, be grateful for every day, accept new challenges and recognize opportunities.  Of course, may it be filled with delicious food and wine!  Cheers!

Blue Cheese Shortbread Bites

Makes 36 Shortbreads

½ Cup Sharp Blue Cheese, room temperature
3 Tablespoon Butter, room temperature
½ Cup Flour
¼ Cup Cornstarch
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 Cup Walnuts, chopped


Ricotta Cheese
Mango Chutney
Candied Walnuts

Combine the blue cheese and butter in a food processor; process until creamy.  Add the flour, cornstarch, pepper and salt to the processor and pulse to combine.  Next add the walnut nuts and process until incorporated.  Do not over process.  Remove the dough from the food processor and shape into a ball and then flatten into a disk.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for one hour until firm.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place the chilled dough on a piece of plastic wrap and cover with another piece of plastic wrap.  Roll the dough out to about ¼ inch thick.  Remove the top plastic wrap and cut into 1-inch circles using a fluted cookie cutter.  Place on a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Repeat until all the dough is used.  Bake until light brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.  Let cool.

To assemble, spread about 1 teaspoon of ricotta cheese on top of each shortbread and place a small dollop of mango chutney on top of ricotta then garnish with a small candied walnut piece.  Enjoy!

Note:  Blue Cheese Shortbread recipe from Cocktail Food by Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Bacon Parmesan Crackers

Christmas came and went in a blink of an eye this year.  I guess I say that every year, but it seems to speed up each year.  I enjoy each and every moment, especially watching the faces of my four nephews opening their gifts and seeing their eyes light up.  This year I was in charge of bringing appetizers for our Christmas celebration at my parent’s house.  Surprise huh?

After debating over several choices, I knew one was for sure.  I had pinned these crackers some time ago and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make these bacon and cheese delights. I spied folks going in for seconds, thirds and fourths – then I stopped paying attention.  The multiple times to the plate were the only validation I needed to certify that these were a winner.

It was a magical day just spending time with my family.  We shared many laughs and lively conversation.  We ate really well.  We enjoyed the rainy and chilly day by the roaring fire that never stopped burning.  We opened gifts and saw many small boys get very excited over certain “requested” toys and other toys not requested got rave reviews.  We took cat naps.  We enjoyed my sister’s handmade English crackers during brunch and dinner with wonderful surprises in each.  We saw my Dad moving around extremely well since having his surgery four months ago.  Most of all, we enjoyed the spirit of Christmas and spending time together as a family!

Since the dough freezes beautifully, so I doubled the recipe so hubby and I could enjoy these tasty crackers for our traditional Friday Night Bites with a glass of chilled Sancerre. 

Bacon Parmesan Crackers

Makes 60 to 70 crackers

2 Cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
10 Grinds of fresh pepper
2 Tablespoons, chopped chives
1 cup finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) butter
½ Cup Heavy cream
8 slices Apple Wood Smoked Bacon, cooked and crumbled

Put the flour, salt, cheese and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the flour and butter are combined. Add about ½ cup cream or half-and-half and let machine run for a bit; continue to add liquid a teaspoon at a time, until the mixture holds together but is not sticky.  Add the bacon and pulse a few times to incorporate. 

Transfer the dough to a large square of parchment or wax paper.  Shape the dough into a long rectangle with a 1-inch square cross-section. Wrap tightly in the paper and freeze for at least 3 hours. 

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Slice the dough ¼-inch thick, arranging the cookies ½-inch apart on the baking sheet.  Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack; serve warm or at room temperature or store in a tin for a few days

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Kale and Sausage Soup

Today in the Bay Area it was chilly with consistent rain pounding the pavement.  The trees were whipping and shaking with the substantial wind.  Winter is here.  The sun never peaked out today and it turned out to be a great day to stay indoors.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Brie Cups with Grape Salsa + Cocktail Party Tips

With festive parties abundant this time of year, it the perfect reason to celebrate the season and throw a fun cocktail party.  The party can scale from half a dozen friends to an extravagant bash for fifty. Honesty by preference is the more intimate affair with 6 to 12 people in attendance.  It gives me the opportunity to really socialize, converse and enjoy my guests. The idea of simply serving a signature cocktail as a starter then a variety of new and old world wines along with tasty bite sized delights is pure perfection in my book.

At the moment, I am in the final stages of planning such an event for next week.  A long time friend is visiting over the holidays so why not host a celebratory cocktail party in her honor.  The invitations have been sent, RSVP’s completed and the menu is nearly complete and now I just need to settle on the signature cocktail.  I can hardly wait for next week.  Quite frankly, one of my favorite parts of throwing a party is the planning and of course the actual event is the piece de resistance.

Among my favorite appetizer recipes to share with my guests is the Brie Cups with Grape Salsa, which pairs perfectly with the Grgich Hills Chardonnay.  With the grape being the common denominator, the compliment of the wine and tartlet was a match made in heaven.  These appetizers are super simple to make and pack a lot of flavor.  I highly recommend that you make the grape salsa ahead of time, so the flavors have time to marry together.  For the tart cups, I purchased Athens brand Mini Fillo Shells since they are simply perfect each time.  If you are feeling creative, you could use store bought wonton skins. Simply brush with a bit of olive oil and place into a mini muffin tin.  Cook at 350 for 5 to 10 minutes or until crispy golden brown. 

If you are hosting a cocktail party soon, would love to hear about it!

Brie Cups with Grape Salsa

1 C. Red seedless grapes, cut in half
1/3 t. Salt
2 T. Green onion, finely chopped
1 T. Balsamic vinegar
2 T. Olive oil
1 t. Rosemary, finely minced
1 Small clove garlic, minced
6 Grinds of fresh ground pepper
30 Pre-made Athens mini phyllo shells
6 oz. Brie, rind removed

Preheat oven to 350.

Place the grapes and salt in to a food processor and pulse until grapes are coarsely chopped. Transfer to a strainer and let sit for about 5 to 10 minutes.  In a bowl, mix the green onions, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic pepper and strained grapes together.  Let sit to marry the flavors together for at least 15 minutes.

To assemble, lay the 30 shells out onto a cookie sheet and place about ½ t. of brie in each cup and then about a half to full teaspoon of the grape salsa.  Bake for about 5 minutes, until the cheese melts. Serve immediately.

Adapted from: Cocktail Food by Mary Corpening Barber & Sara Corpening Whiteford

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Zucchini Soup with Gruyere Croutons + Dinner Party Highlights

I love to entertain!  From the planning of the menus, to designing the table settings and decorations to matching the wine to the various courses – the entire process brings me much joy.  The greatest gift for me is bringing good friends together and sharing an evening together with tasty food, delicious wine and fun conversation.  Once I have a date on the calendar, my creative spirit goes into high gear.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Smoky, Spicy and Sweet Bourbon Peanuts

A vacation day - what a rare opportunity that I take advantage of, but need to more – especially after such a wonderful day that I have had so far today.  It is a day filled with food, friends, laughs, good conversation and great memories.

Patty from Patty’s Food arranged several weeks ago a cookie swap and lunch for a group of food bloggers.  I could hardly wait to attend and finally the day had arrived. From all sides of the bay Area, we made our way into
San Francisco to dine at Tyler Florence's Wayfare Tavern.  It was fantastic to see Patty, Bonnie, Azmina, Gina, Rose, Jean and Liren.  We ate well. I guess that is what food bloggers do. Smile.  From the signature Fried Chicken to Bone Marrow to Deviled Eggs to Cauliflower Soup with Lobster Beignets to Mac & Cheese with Smoked Olive Oil, it was a true feast.

After we finished gorging ourselves, well maybe not quite dramatic of a word, the best part was yet to arrive - the highly anticipated cookie swap.  Patty arranged this swap perfectly.  Each person brought half dozen cookies to share with everyone plus four to cut in half to enjoy at the table with a cup of piping hot coffee.  I wish you all could have dived into the cookies.  These are some talented ladies.  Always fun to catch up with these ladies and today was no exception. Big smile. We even packaged up the shared cookies and gave to our waiter as a special gift.  

I wanted to share these smoky, spicy and sweet bourbon peanuts for my Friday night bites weekly series.  I was instantly inspired by Jean’s Bourbon Pistachios and knew I had to make my own version pronto.  Since I had recently purchased a bag of peanuts; that was my nut of choice.  While searching my pantry I found a bottle of smoked paprika and built the recipe from this delightful spice.  The result was an enjoyable peanut that was smoky first, then sweet with a spicy finish. They were a hit at my office.  Thank you Jean for the inspirational nut recipe.  

Now it is time to head off for our annual holiday dinner with my book club.  Another great restaurant to enjoy tonight, just hope I have some resemblance of an appetite after today’s lunch. I wonder how much discussion will actually happen around this month’s selection - Telegraph Avenue. Smile. Wink.

Smoky, Spicy and Sweet Bourbon Peanuts

8 (oz) Bag of Shelled Peanuts
3 T. Bourbon
2 T. Maple Syrup
3 T. Brown Sugar
1 t. Salt
½ t. Cayenne Pepper
1 t. Smoked Paprika

Preheat oven to 250 degrees

Use a medium sized bowl and add all of the ingredients together except the peanuts.  Mix well.  Next add the peanuts and coat well with the bourbon mixture.  Use a sheet pan with sides and spread the peanuts evenly.

Cook for 25 minutes.  Halfway through, stir the peanuts to ensure they are well coated.  Remove and let cool. Use a spatula to loosen the peanuts and store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holiday Checkerboard Cookies | 2nd Annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

What a wonderful time of year!  The holidays are here – a time for spending time with family and friends.  The cheer is flowing along with an abundance of tasty treats.  Speaking of delicious treats, this time of year brings out a plethora of delightful cookies.  It is a time for cookie baking, cookie swaps and trying new recipes, and of course, partaking in eating these one or two bite delights.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Parmesan Pecan Dip

With the holidays now here - festive parties are in full force.  How many events do you already have scheduled or double booked this season? Whether it is for your office, a gathering of friends, spending time with family or other festive gatherings, now is the time to indulge in holiday cookies, a plethora of appetizers and other gourmet delights.  Last night was the start of my social gatherings.  I participate on a local board for Human Resource professionals and the last meeting of the year is a potluck of sorts.  With this being the third year I have been a member of the board, I have now been infamous for a particular appetizer – Parmesan and Pecan Dip.

It is widely requested among people who know me.  When folks taste it for the first time, it is literally addictive and you can’t help but go back for seconds, thirds, fourths and even a tenth one or more. Trust me.  Years ago I brought it to one of my offices and a gentleman who doesn’t really cook was instantly hooked.  He subsequently asked for the recipe and made it for every event he had.  I would get emails from him letting me know that he made the “crack dip” again.  He made it for his football buddies and it was gone super quick.  He is no longer with our company, but every once in a while I will get an email letting me know that he made the dip and it was a hit.  Love that!

This is the dip that you can bring to all of your holiday events and I guarantee that you will be the star at your event.  It is that good.  This dip would be perfect with almost any wine from a dry sparkling wine to a buttery chardonnay to a deep cabernet sauvignon.

Parmesan and Pecan Dip

1 C. finely diced celery
1 C. chopped roasted pecans
1 C. chopped parmesan
½ C. chopped flat leaf parsley


2 small garlic cloves minced and mashed with ½ teaspoon of salt
1 T. Mayo
2 T. Fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 T. Olive oil
3 to 4 grinds of fresh pepper

Endive leaves (3 to 4 whole endives)

Roast the chopped pecans for about 10 minutes in a 375 degree oven. You can skip this step by purchasing the dry roasted pecan pieces at Trader Joes. Blend the dressing ingredients in a small mason jar and shake until well blended. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Chop the first four ingredients and put everything, except the pecans in a bowl into the refrigerator until ready to serve. Set pecans aside. When ready to serve, add the pecans and dressing. Toss well and transfer to a pretty serving bowl. Add to a platter with the endive leaves. Use a small spoon to have guests top each endive leaf.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Beer & Pumpkin Chili + BlueStar Cookware Review

Recently Wendy from Smart Click Advertising reached out to me directly to see if I would be interested in reviewing a new line of cookware from BlueStar.  Prior to accepting Wendy’s offer to send me cookware to review, I did research BlueStar, since I had never heard of them prior. I quickly learned the BlueStar label is part of Prizer-Painter Stove Works, Inc and began handcrafting and manufacturing stoves since 1880.  In 2002, Prizer introduced handcrafted, restaurant quality ranges for the residential market under the BlueStar brand.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pumpkin and Bacon Pasta

The skies over the Bay Area unleashed this morning with pounding rain and hallowing winds.  With ominous weather conditions that are not typical for the Bay Area, hubby and I were fascinated by watching and listening to Mother Nature’s fury. Not sure if she was mad or simply helping us to prevent a draught in the springtime.  I would like to think it is the latter. Smile. We were facinated by the sheer volume of rain that pounded down onto our tiny neighborhood.

It was amazing to see the gutters clogged and mounds of rain gushing down towards the ground.  The end of our court had water piling up and spouting up from the storm drains.  The great news was that we were able to stay inside and not have to drive through the treacherous conditions on the road.

We enjoyed our hot cups of coffee, a bit of Good Morning America weekend and some fresh off the griddle pumpkin pancakes.  Speaking of pumpkin, my affection for anything pumpkin continues with this quick pasta dish I created.  It is hearty, flavorful, textural and ever so satisfying.  Where ever you are in the globe, I hope you are having a Sublime Sunday!

Pumpkin and Bacon Pasta

2 ½ Cups Roasted pumpkin cubes
10 Slices Apple wood Smoked Bacon, coked crispy and crumbled
1 lb. Linguini, cook according to package
2/3 Cup Ricotta Salata Cheese
2/3 Cup Parmesan Cheese
6 Garlic large cloves, minced
10 to 12 Fresh sage leaves, rough chop
½ Cup Olive Oil (more if desired)
½ Cup Flat leaf parsley, rough chop
¼ Cup Pepitas

Preparing the pumpkin:

Take one sugar pumpkin and cut into quarters and remove seeds and pulp.  With a sharp knife, cut away the outside skin.  Then cut into ½ cubes.  Lay onto a sheet pan with sides and toss with olive oil and salt.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees or until tender.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Preparing the pasta:

Prepare the pasta according to the package until al dente.  Drain into a colander and set aside.  Meanwhile add the garlic and olive oil to a large skillet.  Cook over medium for 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the cooked pasta and toss.  Add more olive oil if too dry.  Heat through for 2 minutes over medium.  Toss in the cooked bacon, sage, parsley and season with salt and pepper.  Taste and add more seasoning and sage or parsley if desired.  Add to a large bowl and toss with the ricotta salata and parmesan cheese.  Sprinkle the pepitas on top and serve.  Have a bowl of parmesan cheese near by to add extra if desired.